The same, but different

Recently the sales team at Frank Miller Lumber received an invitation to quote on a large quantity of Quartersawn White Oak for use in the Middle East.  Naturally, any chance to quote a possible order for shipment into an area to which you rarely ship is exciting.  The pricing surprised the joinery company making the inquiry, even though it was normal pricing for quartersawn lumber.  Regular readers of “Criswell’s Corner” know that this is the Bentley of hardwoods and is therefore more expensive.   The order never materialized and I started thinking a bit more about comparisons between plain sawn and quartersawn white oak as an example.

There are many areas of the world dominated by plain sawn American hardwoods for interior joinery and flooring.  The most prominent visual feature of plain sawn white and red oak is its “cathedral grain”, also known as “crown cut”, with the growth rings manifesting themselves with peaks instead of the straight grain of quartersawn.  As I outline in my presentation on quartersawn hardwoods, the straight grain is what gives quartersawn white and red oak its stability and unique beauty.  Straight-grained quartersawn is not just a different look from plain sawn.  It is an entirely different product.  The two cannot be reasonably compared for pricing for several reasons.  The only similarity is that they are the same species of wood.

First, the logs chosen for quartersawing are just below veneer quality.  They need to be solid to the center of the log so they can be cut from the inside out as shown in the video in this website.  The higher the quality of the log, the more it costs, which translates into the selling price of lumber made from those logs.  Additionally the process of quartersawing is slow and highly technical, which also increases the production costs.  For example, a plain sawn mill can buy a lower quality log and still produce beautiful cathedral grain lumber and they can do it in half the time.

When specifying quartersawn white or red oak for a project, don’t just think of it as simply a straight grain “look”.  It is a highly specialized product, painstakingly sawn and dried for maximum beauty and stability.  Choose it for its attributes and don’t comparison shop.  Take the time to check out the section in this website called “About Quartersawn” to learn more about the process of manufacturing the most beautiful and stable American hardwood.